Co-founder and CEO of Ellie Mental Health, Erin Pash, is on a mission to make mental health care more accessible, and that has propelled her brand to number 65 on our Top New & Emerging Franchises list. Here she explains how franchising helps her achieve that goal.
How did Ellie Mental Health get started?
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Minnesota, and my then-partner and I wanted to be a better place for clinicians to work, remove some of the barriers to accessing care for clients, and create a recognizable brand that can help promote mental health to destigmatize. So we opened three offices in St. Paul, Minnesota, and before we knew it, we had therapists willing to work there, and tons of clients came through word of mouth. I now own 20 clinics in Minnesota, and since we started franchising in 2021, we have 500 clinics planned to open in 38 states over the next few years.
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Where did the name Ellie and the elephant logo come from?
We knew from the start that we wanted elephants because there is so much symbolism around them. For example, we talk about “the elephant in the room” when we talk about some of our darkest emotional secrets. And there is also the metaphor of the elephant and the rider – the rider is your rational brain and the elephant is your emotional brain. The rider is in control… except when they’re not, because when you’re riding a three-ton creature, you’re not always in control. So we chose this symbol before we knew what we wanted to call it. And then we came up with Ellie, as my son’s name would have been had he been a girl. So we always joke that the company is my girl. When we first opened, we called it Ellie Family Services because the community wasn’t ready for “mental health” on a giant board back then. The stigma was so different. But we always wanted to be “mental health” so we decided to change our name when we opened our first franchise locations. During the pandemic, people realized the importance of mental health. We’ve already seen increasing adoption around mental health, but the pandemic probably accelerated that five years into the future.
What prompted you to franchise?
When we thought about what made us successful, we narrowed it down to three things: entrepreneurial spirit, passion for mental health, and being truly rooted in a community. So it was really important for us to find people who could be our partners who have a passion for their own communities, especially when it comes to building trust. We went to talk to a lawyer and he said, “You’re talking about franchising.” We resisted at first because we both thought, We don’t want to be the “McDonald’s of mental health.” We want to be locally owned by people with a lot of passion. What we’ve learned is that that’s exactly what franchising is. It’s about finding like-minded partners. We hand-select all of our franchisees and go through a rigorous process to ensure they fit our cultural values and are involved for the right reasons.
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So what qualities are you looking for in your franchisees?
First, we look for people who are truly rooted in their community, who want to improve their community and help their friends and their children find socio-emotional health. Second, they must be credible and actually care about mental health. This is not a case of an absentee owner. Our very first franchisee sought this opportunity because her son had ADHD and she couldn’t find a therapist to help him. Having such a passion for mental health because it has impacted them first or secondhand and being willing to share that story is so important to breaking stigmas and connecting with people. Finally, we are looking for people who are business driven as this is not a company for the faint of heart.
And what kind of people are drawn to the opportunity?
It’s kind of run the gamut. I love that nearly 40% of our owners are female or black, native or colored. We’ve really made sure that we have an eclectic group of people who meet the three qualities I was talking about and who also bring something unique to their own community — making people feel like they have access to therapy from like-minded people. people in their own city.